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The Etiquette Grrls' Q & A Archive: September 2003

A Wee Note from EGL…

Dear Readers,

I have very, very wonderful news to share with you—My Husband and I are expecting A Baby in February (February 20, to be exact)! We think it's a Girl (but are only about 90% sure because she was very squirmy during the Ultrasound last week). So we'll be keeping receipts for anything Pink that we buy, hee hee. I just wanted to share the news with all of you now that I'm about halfway through the pregnancy. We are absolutely thrilled!

As ever,
Lesley

P.S. Naturally, this means any reference to the EGs mixing up a Pitcher of Martinis, etc., is not to be Taken Literally!


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

First of let me say how much I adore your Website and Books! They are definitely making the World a Better Place. I wish more People would pay attention, so I wouldn't have to relate the following challenge to you; in the large Canadian city I live in, many of the young [and not so young] women are walking around dressed in their Trampy Best, showing bare midriffs at work and way too much cleavage everywhere! The problem? Trends being what they are, I'm finding it Challenging to put together a work / play wardrobe that will fit my tiny Budget and Miniscule Closet, and will fit in at the small technology firm I work for. I'm aiming for well-dressed, but not stodgy! Suggestions, or if you have the time, a list, would be happily received.

Your appreciatively,
Vexed in Vancouver

Dear Vexed,

Oh, Dear Reader, this is not just happening in Your City. It's happening everywhere, and it's got to stop!! Bare midriffs at work? Sorry, there's no excuse for that, EVER, no matter how "casual" your office is.

We understand that if you don't wear a Suit to work every day, it's more difficult to find clothing that's office-appropriate. Having to wear a Suit makes it pretty easy! "Business casual" is more open to Individual Interpretation, sometimes with Disastrous Results. Our best advice would be to stick with The Basics, pay a lot of attention to fit, and buy the best quality you can afford. We did include some ideas for a basic wardrobe in TYNTBT, but in general, it's kind of hard to say, "EVERYONE needs three pairs of black pants, two pairs of khaki pants, two straight skirts, one pleated skirt, etc." For one thing, we don't know if you like wearing skirts or pants! It's still good to have a few of both hanging around, but only you can say how many of each will really work for you. Hence, we didn't put together a shopping list, but here are some tips on creating a Great Business Casual Wardrobe on a Budget.

  • Yes, if you take a couple hundred dollars and go shopping, you will be able to buy a lot more individual pieces at Discount Stores than at Department Stores or Little Boutiques, but you'll get what you pay for. In the long run, for example, it's better to get one pair of really well-cut black pants that fit you perfectly and are made of a nice material even if they cost the same as three pairs of okay-fitting black pants from a Discount Store. They'll look better, even if you wear them more often, and if they're made well, they'll last longer.
  • Don't buy only casual clothing. You really do need to have a Suit on hand. (What if you have a Very Important Meeting, or if you have to go to A Funeral?) So do budget for a few Dressier Pieces, but make sure they can be integrated into your regular wardrobe. A plain black wool gabardine skirt suit, for example, can be split up—wear the skirt with a sweater one day, the jacket over a crisp white shirt and khaki pants the next. A twinset is similarly versatile.
  • Don't forget about vintage-clothing stores! It's a good idea to have a Plain Little Black Dress that can go from The Office (with a little cardigan over it) to A Dinner Party… with a little Detective Work you could probably find a really splendid dress in a Vintage Boutique that would serve this purpose with ever so much more style than something you grabbed off the rack at Ann Taylor.
  • It's much better to have fewer pieces of clothing that you actually wear frequently than a lot of things you've bought even though you're not in love with them just because you thought they were a good deal. Plus, it makes your closet less of a Mess.
  • Don't be afraid to go into stores you've previously shunned because you think their Target Audience isn't quite you (in terms of style or price range). You might find something Surprisingly Perfect.
  • If you make most of your wardrobe Rather Neutral in Cut and Color (e.g., instead of getting black pants with a Slight Stripe in the fabric, you might choose a plain fabric instead), it's then a lot easier to work in a few Bold/Funky/Cool Pieces. (Plus, they'll stand out more!)
  • Shopping for a wardrobe like this becomes kind of like Detective Work. Some people find this fun—some find it irritating. However, if you really do want to achieve a Very Cool Wardrobe on a Very Low Budget, the price is going to be time and effort.

Good luck, Dear Reader!

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

While I have enjoyed your site for many months now, this is the first time I have had the need to address a question to you. My question is regarding my upcoming wedding.

My boyfriend recently proposed and we are beginning to plan our wedding. However, we are having a difficult time deciding where to get married. I have lived in Washington, DC for five years now, and my fiancé has lived here for 12 years. His family is from all over; my family lives 1,500 miles away.

I would love to get married in my hometown, but I am in grad school and too busy and too broke to fly home for frequent wedding planning visits. I can't leave it in my mother's hands to plan because my fiancé and I are paying for most of the wedding—I don't want my parents to feel like they should help out. And my mother and I have very different tastes in everything—I fear leaving any style issues to her.

I love my family and my hometown, but it seems too difficult to get married there. Is it selfish to want to have the wedding here, where my fiancé and I live, if it will be a burden for our guests?

Sincerely,
Torn Between Two Towns

Dear Torn,

You have the right to have your wedding anywhere you want, whether that's in Your Hometown or on a Mountain Top in Chile. What you don't have the right to do is expect that 200 people are going to make a journey to a Remote Location (particularly if it's expensive for them to do so). As long as you issue your invitations with Realistic Expectations of how many people will actually be able to come, you should be fine. Any steps you can take to make traveling to Washington easier for your immediate family (whom, we assume, you do really want to be there) would be thoughtful. Perhaps you can scout out nice-but-inexpensive hotels, for example, and block off some rooms there, or perhaps you can plan your wedding for a time of year when it's particularly easy for your family to travel.

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

What is appropriate for a girl to wear for her college yearbook picture? Do you suggest a v-neck or scoop-neck top?

Class of '04

Dear Class of '04,

You can wear something a bit Dressier than you'd wear to class on an Average Day, but make sure it doesn't look like Evening Wear. Above all, don't wear anything Trendy or Complicated. A top in a solid color will look much better than something with a Busy Pattern. Also beware of anything that might look Shiny—if this is a Typical Yearbook Photography Session, you'll have something like five minutes with the photographer, and he or she will hardly have time to adjust the lighting to eliminate any Odd Reflections your blouse is creating. And don't wear anything that might look Wrinkled (especially true if you have to dash in to have your photo taken Between Classes or something). The neckline itself should be whatever is most flattering to you, but as always, Low-Cut Tops should be avoided.

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Now, I know that you would never get yourselves into a situation like this, but if you had a Special, Private, Not-Very-Nice name for an acquaintance of yours and you accidentally used the Special, Private, Not-Very-Nice Name instead of his real name when you were talking to him on the phone... what would you do?

It wasn't a malicious Special, Private, Not-Very-Nice Name; it just wasn't very nice. I make them up for everybody—my father used to use silly nicknames when he talked about my teachers so I wouldn't be scared of them... I guess I kind of picked up the habit from him.

I would normally only think these Special, Private, Not-Very-Nice Names, I wouldn't even share them with a mutual friend, but this time it just came out. There was about 15 seconds of shocked silence, then I hung up on him. I haven't spoken to him since. Um... is there any way to rectify this situation?

Thanks,
Mortified

Dear Mortified,

Well, that's the problem with something like this. Even if you have a Private Nickname for someone that you use with only One Other Person, sooner or later, we guarantee it, one of you is going to Slip Up… which, as you can now attest, is Horribly Embarrassing all around.

Hanging up on your friend probably wasn't the Best Move, either. We don't know exactly how you used the name, but there might have been a chance of Trying to Cover for it somehow with humor. Let's say you called someone named Stanley "Snarly"—maybe, just maybe, you could've turned it into something like, "Oh my God, I can't believe that just slipped out! I was making this silly get-well card for Sarah the other day where I referred to everyone as an Evil Care Bear, and you were Snarly Bear. I was Cantankerous Bear. Hahaha!" Well, that is kind of a Weak Example, but you get the idea—you might have been able to Think Up Something Quickly. At this point, however, we think you simply owe your friend An Apology. Preferably one you deliver In Person. Don't make excuses; just say you were Quite Rude to call him that and wanted to apologize; that you realize there is No Excuse for being this immature and that you will never, ever do anything this Hurtful again, etc., etc. If he won't see you, write him a Letter of Apology (a real letter, not an e-mail) and attempt to follow up In Person.

Very truly yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

There is a gentleman in my circle of friends in graduate school here at the University who seems to have quite a crush on me. Unfortunately, I believe we would not be a good couple, even though he is fun as part of our group. He asked me out for a big Valentine's Day dinner, and although I turned him down politely, somehow the rumor spread that we were dating. (No wonder nobody else asks me out.)

I don't think HE understands we will not be going out, even though he assures me he knows we're just friends. Friends don't leave cute cards with the sentiment "Everything revolves around you," or leave three e-mails and a phone message in one day to let you know they saw you posing for a group photo. He sees everything friendly I do as romantic (attending a concert he performed in, inviting him to a party or group outing, congratulating him when he called to say he'd passed his qualifying exams, etc.). I guess I should be flattered, but... what part of NO didn't he understand?

At least he's in another department, so I won't be taking any courses with him or working together/above/below. However, we are members of a rather small social circle based on common interests, and several of these friends are rooting for us to get together. Is there a way to handle this so they won't see me as being mean to him? I don't want to lose them, too. I haven't wanted to break his bubble while he was studying for quals, but after he's gotten over passing them, it might be a good time to talk.

Should I politely, but unambiguously, let him know I will not date him and it bothers me to receive this type of attention? Or should I just shun him and bounce his e-mail? He might get the picture, he might just think I'm sick/busy and worry, or he might think I hate him. Or should I just let him live in his dream world? I've been in his shoes, and the longer things go on, the more it hurts when you understand you can't date your object of admiration.

My prospects for acquiring an Admiring, Attentive Boyfriend in the near future are pretty low, and he might just plan on waiting it out anyhow. There are a couple of friends who might pretend to date me—but what would I do if someone I liked thought I was taken? Honesty is much simpler.

Thank you for your opinion in the matter.

Sincerely,
Magnet of Physicists

Dear Magnet,

You're absolutely right: Honesty is Much Simpler. Meet him for a cup of coffee and explain, in No Uncertain Terms, that you like him very much as a Friend, but ONLY as a Friend. You've noticed things that make you think he thinks of you as potentially more than a Friend, and you wanted to Address This because you do not envision the two of you having any kind of relationship other than a Friendship, and you don't want him to misinterpret anything you do as an indication of anything besides Plain Old Friendship. Don't let him live in his Dream World—that just encourages this, which is not good for either him or you. And don't simply ignore his behavior, since it sounds like you've Tried That Already and it doesn't seem to be working. And definitely don't create a Fake Boyfriend—that's just a situation waiting to Backfire. Furthermore, it would probably be wise to tell a Very Close Friend, or Your Roommate, or someone, that you are planning to Tell Niels that you are not going to go out with him. Maybe we're just Un Peu Paranoid, but there's something about the "Everything revolves around you" card that makes us think there's a bit of Stalker Potential here. Now, it'll probably be fine, but it just might be a good idea if somebody else knew about this stuff in case he does anything Weird after you Explain Things to Him.

Finally, don't worry about the other people in Your Social Circle. Sure, people do sometimes think it'd be great if their friends started Dating, but if they don't realize that you have the right NOT to be interested in Niels, then they are being Quite Immature, which should not be Your Problem. If Niels spreads the word that you were Incredibly Mean to him, then you can address that when and if it happens… but deal with him first before you worry about Other Peoples' Reaction.

Cheers,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Good morning, Grrls,

My family and I were shopping at a local mall and had stopped to rest on a bench. While we were sitting there, an elderly lady came by and was looking for a place to rest. There were no open benches, so she proceeded to sit down on the stone wall surrounding the benches. I got up and offered her my place on the bench. She turned red and got angry with me, stating that she was only waiting for a family member and she certainly didn't need my seat. She then proceeded to stand up and walk around in front of the store her relative was shopping in, all the while shooting me the Icy Glare.

Did I do wrong? I certainly did not mean to offend this woman—I was trying to be mannerly and give her a comfortable place to sit. What to do when this situation arises?

Thank you, as always, for your wonderful advice.

Perplexed Mall Dweller

Dear Perplexed,

Well, isn't that Unusual and, dare we say, Quite Rude of this Elderly Woman? You did the right thing in offering her your seat. We'd have done the same thing. If she reacted like this to us, we'd have said something like, "I apologize, Ma'am; I didn't mean to offend you. I simply thought you might prefer to sit here." Really, even if she truly didn't want your seat, she shouldn't have Gotten Angry with you—a simple "No, thank you" would have Sufficed. (Unless you offered the seat in a Rude Manner, such as by saying, "Hey, Old Lady? Ya wanna sit here? You're, like, ANCIENT, so you probably need this seat more than me." But somehow, the EGs Highly Doubt you did anything like that.)

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Our local paper listed your website as reference for up-to-date etiquette advice and I am looking forward to your insight. I have a baby shower situation that has left me somewhat shocked as how to respond or if a response is necessary at all. At work, a woman is pregnant and a co-worker has sent an e-mail invitation, to everyone on her distribution list, that a baby shower is being planned in December. The shower is being held at a second co-worker's home, and there is a five dollar cover charge to cover expenses of the shower. The organizer wanted this to be a "special" shower experience, for her supervisor, as management has allowed baby showers, at work, in the past. A friend and I are getting quite a chuckle about the cover charge. I have, in jest, considered other ways to get around the cover charge. I thought they should crash a Christmas house party. Let the host know that since a Christmas party is already planned and there will be people there already, would the host mind if baby shower gifts were also exchanged?

Is this a new trend in party planning, bring a gift and by the way, if you actually want to get though the door, ante up some cash? Reminder e-mails are also being sent, about one every three weeks. The delete button is a wonderful keyboard feature. But seriously, our little party planner will eventually visit everyone's cubicle and question whether or not they are coming. I have decided to be busy that day. Is that a good excuse, or is there another tactful way to respond?

M.

Dear M.,

Well, if it's a New Trend, it needs to be Stomped Down before it spreads Any Further! You are NEVER allowed to have a Cover Charge for a Dinner Party, a Shower, a Wedding Reception, a Birthday Party, a Christmas Party, etc.! If you want to be the Hostess, you have to Foot the Bill. The ENTIRE Bill. (And for the record, that's true if the event is being held In Your Home or At a Restaurant—if you invite Guests, they shouldn't pay for a Single Thing.) If that's going to Bankrupt You, well, then, you need to Scale Back the Party.

So many other things are Wrong Here. First, e-mail is not the appropriate medium to deliver a Shower Invitation. Maybe it would be, if you were talking about a Really Casual "Shower" held AT the workplace, on the scale of an Office Birthday Party (e.g., "Hi everyone, we're having a Wee Bridal Shower for Annabelle in the Conference Room at 4:30 PM on Thursday. No need to bring a gift—the company's taking care of that—just join us to wish her well! There's a card at Lucy's desk if you'd like to sign it."), but not something held at someone's home! Furthermore, if the event is in December, it is WAY too early to be issuing invitations. The "reminders" are annoying (and would not be necessary if the invitations were sent at a reasonable time closer to the date of the event). And lastly, it sounds like the Party Planner is just Kissing Up to Her Boss. With any luck, Her Boss will see right through this.

Definitely be busy that day, Dear Reader. That's a great excuse. In fact, we'd go ahead and R.S.V.P. now, just to get the Annoying Party Planner off your back (maybe she'll take you off the "reminder" e-mail list as well).

Cheers,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I recently experienced an awkward situation and I'm sure I handled it poorly—I'm hopeful that you can offer some advice as to how I could have better dealt with it.

For my birthday, my husband gave me a gift certificate for a 60-minute salt rub/massage and a 35-minute scalp massage/oil treatment. I expected both to be quite a treat. I enjoyed the beginning of my day at the spa, but after 30 minutes, my salt rub was finished. The masseuse told me to get dressed and meet her in the other room. I did so, and was treated to a 12 minute scalp massage, sans oil. After less than an hour, she returned me to the waiting room and took another client back for a massage. She did not give me time to tip her, and at that point, I wasn't too keen on giving her one. Feeling that I had been cheated out of a considerable lot of time, I politely inquired with the front desk regarding what treatments I had been scheduled for. I suggested that perhaps my husband had been confused regarding the length of time of each treatment, but was told no, that my salt rub was 60 minutes and my scalp treatment 35. Upon hearing this, I pointed at the clock and noted that I was back in the reception area after considerably less time, and that neither lotion nor scalp oil had been used. The receptionist claimed that two treatments are usually combined, and that surely oil was used and I just hadn't noticed. It was clear that I was not going to get anywhere, so I left (having already paid with my gift certificate upon arrival).

Truthfully, I wanted to complain and request full refund for the treatments, and had I paid for them myself, I probably would have. This, however, was a gift from my husband, who was so excited to give me such a thoughtful surprise. I could not bear to tell him, but still feel, two weeks later, as though he was cheated and so was I. I expect he will get me similar gifts in the future, possibly at the same day spa, and I wonder—what should I do if this same thing happens again?

Thank you,
Not Happy

Dear Not Happy,

Oh, Dear Reader, this is when you need to Stand Your Ground and Ask to Speak to a Manager! Even now, we think you need to Write a Letter to the Spa Management! Tell them exactly what you told us, and say specifically that you are Quite Disappointed that Your Husband's Thoughtful Gift ended up being an Unpleasant Experience. We understand why you wouldn't have wanted to have Your Husband be disappointed as well, but Dear Reader, we think Your Husband would probably want to know if something made you Unhappy. He'd probably feel terrible if he got you a Gift Certificate to the Same Spa for your next five birthdays and THEN learned you had always hated it! If it were from someone you weren't so close to, then sure, we'd probably Keep Mum or tell a Little White Lie about how fabulous it was, but since, as you say, he's probably going to give you similar gifts in the future, you should really fill him in. At this point, we'd write the letter, wait for a response (which had better be An Apology and Another Gift Certificate), and then tell Your Husband the whole story. You can say that he was Very, Very Sweet to give you the Gift Certificate, and it's just because he was so sweet that you felt even worse about Being Cheated, so you decided you ought to do something about it.

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Please inform all your dear readers that student status does not confer license to dress and behave like a slob! I am a graduate student in the sciences, and I am appalled to hear so many of my fellow students express the opinion that since we are graduate students, we "get" to wear ratty T-shirts, ratty jeans, and ratty shoes to school and work!

One of them even criticized me for dressing "all nice and business-y"! (I was wearing a simple skirt and blouse with nice shoes—nothing particularly spectacular, or so I thought...) I want to be taken seriously in my work, and EGs, forgive me if I am wrong, but I have been told that, to a certain extent, the clothes make the man (or woman). Am I missing something huge here, or am I simply a lone voice in a crowd?

Student

Dear Student,

Sigh. Of course you're not wrong, Dear Reader! However, Dear Reader, the EGs have Been to Grad School, and we think that sadly, you are in the Minority. The EGs think that Graduate Students especially should Make An Effort to Dress Appropriately—after all, don't you want to distinguish yourselves from the Undergrads? Not that the Undergrads should be running around in ratty ensembles, either, but we think that as a Grad Student, you should try to dress More Professionally. This is doubly true if you are Teaching Undergrads in any manner... and triply true if you are Not Long Out of College Yourself and Teaching Undergrads... they need to see you as Their Instructor, not as Their Peer. Trust us, it's a lot easier to tell a student something Rather Grave (e.g., "I understand you're upset, but I'm not changing your grade, seeing as the assignment was for an Eight-Page Research Paper and your paper had Not a Single Footnote and was three pages long. It's too bad that means you're getting kicked off the Varsity Swim Team, but you should have thought about the consequences earlier.") and have him take you seriously when you're wearing a Nice Blouse, Wool Trousers, and Polished Shoes than when you're wearing a T-Shirt with a Mustard Stain, Sweatpants, and Ratty Sneakers.

Best,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

My friends and I (all 18) get together a lot on the weekends and almost everyday in the summer. Now since we have started university and have moved away this isn't an issue until Christmas and next summer, but it has bugged me for some time.

There are mainly 3 of us that hang out. Myself and friend #2 do the majority of the driving, with me doing the most of anyone. I am very lucky and grateful that my parents let me. Now Friend #2 and I have become very annoyed with friend #3. Her mother is overprotective and hardly lets her take the car, the only time she seems to get it is if her parents don't want to drive her somewhere and she is meeting us there. Now even though her parents aren't very free with the car, friend #3 never really tries or offers to try to get the car.

One weekend she had the car because her parents were away and she spent two days driving another friend around. She also drove us to a parade five minutes away and then back to her house, and then had the nerve to ask us to drive that night because she had been doing a lot of driving. Well, that driving did not involve us, and she would have to drive A LOT to make up for all the times we drive. Another time we were going to have a sleepover at someone's house, and while #2 wasn't going to stay over, I was picking her up and we were going over to hang out. I checked my messages and found one from #3 asking me to bring the car so I could drive people home after. She assumed that because my parents let me have the car a lot that I was going to drive there and leave the car there all night. Needless to say I decided not to spend the night. #3 even tries to get people to go way out to pick up her other friend who has no license.

#2 and I have discussions all the time with our parents and each other about this. Our parents are on our side. Sometimes we pretend that neither of us can drive so she has to get the car, or a lot of the time we just hang out together or say we are all going to meet somewhere (she always gets the car then).

My question is are we right? Are there any other ways to get #3 to drive more? #2 and I have had about enough because gas is expensive and it isn't fair. Thanks!

Running Out of Ideas

Dear Running Out of Ideas,

Dear Reader, talking about this with Friend #2 and with Your Parents, or just pretending that Neither of You Can Drive, is not going to help. There is nothing you can do to solve this problem without telling Friend #3 that you feel like she's Taking Advantage of You. We know it's tough to confront a friend, but unless you want to keep Being Miserable, you need to Sit Down and Talk With Her. Tell her basically what you told us. "Susie, Rebecca, and I feel that we're doing more than Our Fair Share of the Driving when we all go somewhere together. We know Your Mom is Un Peu Strict about letting you use the car, but sometimes, we feel like we're Your Chauffeurs rather than Your Friends." If she blames it all on Mom, then remind her of how she said she didn't want to drive the one weekend she HAD a car because she'd "been doing a lot of driving." Tell her that if Her Mom really is that strict, you understand, but you'd still like her to make more of an effort to reciprocate when she DOES have access to the car, and you'd also appreciate it if she could chip in for gas when she's not able to share the driving. If, after having this Little Chat, she doesn't Shape Up, then, Dear Reader, we'd just stop making plans with her. It's not acceptable to Take Advantage of Your Friends like this. Yes, her Mom's Strictness could be a Legitimate Excuse not to drive... we all know at least one person with Annoyingly Overprotective Parents, and that simply Stinks. However, and this is a big however, if you have a Legitimate Excuse not to drive (like no access to a car, or no license), then you absolutely cannot expect Your Friends to be Your Taxi Service! You should be GRATEFUL when they drive you places, and always offer to chip in for gas, tolls, and parking. Anyone who doesn't realize that is behaving like a Spoiled Brat, and needs to start being nicer to Her Friends.

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!


Dear Etiquette Grrls,

A few months ago it was my four-year-old nephew's birthday. However, my husband and I weren't sure if he already had the gift we had decided upon (a Disney DVD of a movie that we had both enjoyed as children). So we called my sister-in-law for clarification.

She stated that she was against the company that made the present for some politically correct reason and that we should just get our nephew a specific book. Needless to say, this took all of the fun of shopping for our nephew.
While I agree that my sister-in-law has the right to raise her children (as long as it doesn't endanger them) as she sees fit and shouldn't have to answer to anyone about it, I am unsure what to do, in looking ahead to the Christmas season and future birthdays. I'd like to be able to go to the store and pick out something that my husband and I think that our nephew would like. However, with my sister-in-law's stringent rules about what is and isn't acceptable (which isn't easy to figure out) I hesitate to call her and be told what present to buy, because at that point I wonder why we even should bother, I could just write her a check (which I wouldn't really do).

Any thoughts on how to allow us the fun of picking out the present and find one that my sister-in-law will find acceptable?

Thanks,
Confused for Christmas

Dear Confused,

Good God! It's not like you're giving the kid a Bottle of Scotch, a Box of Rabid Raccoons, and a Flamethrower, for heaven's sake!

Get the child Whatever You Want, and don't check with Your Sister-in-Law beforehand. If she doesn't like the gifts, she can Jolly Well Explain to Her Kid why he's not allowed to use them and go exchange them for something she thinks is okay. (But she should Keep This to Herself, in order not to make you feel bad about the gift you selected, and Your Nephew had still better write you a Thank-You Note, making no mention of this.) If you really want to try getting something that will Pass Muster with Your Sister-in-Law, we suggest sticking with Plain, Traditional Toys like Blocks and Art Supplies. However, even if you get the most Innocuous Present in the world, we think she's likely to have some sort of issue with the Ingredients of the Paint or something... so we wouldn't recommend you go too Out of Your Way to try to figure out what she'll approve of.

All best,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Love the column. I would like to inquire as to a problem that I think is oft seen these days. My friend and I were invited to an informal brunch. The hostess told us that there would be 10 or 15 guests. We offered to bring champagne for mimosas. Based on the invited number of guests, we brought four bottles. However, only five guests showed up (for a total of six). We had a delightfully intimate brunch. By the end of the afternoon, we had consumed only two bottles of the champagne.

My friend thought that we should take the rest of the champagne, or at least one bottle, because we would not have brought as much if we had known there would only be six of us. I felt that once you bring something to a party, you leave it, regardless of circumstances, unless the hostess insists that you take it with you.

What is the proper etiquette here?

The Champagne Supplier

P.S. For the record, we left the champagne.

Dear Champagne Supplier,

You did the Right Thing. When you bring something to a Party, you don't take it home with you unless the Hostess absolutely INSISTS that you do. And even then, it's nice to say, "Oh, but you went to all of this trouble. You should enjoy the extra Champagne!" Generosity is always correct, Dear Reader.

Yours sincerely,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Help! My office is having this fund-raiser for cancer research. To raise money, someone came up with the strange idea of having a costume day. Everyone is supposed to pay $5 and that gives them the "right" to come to work in "period costume"! They're having a potluck lunch and having a contest for best costume and making a huge deal out of it. And this isn't even on Halloween or anything, just on some random day!

While I'm happy to donate money to the fight against cancer, I think it's inappropriate and undignified to come to work in costume (I go to work on the train!), plus I certainly don't want to spend my valuable free time thinking of, making, and buying a costume and potluck for 30! This is not my idea of fun, and I'd gladly pay $20 to be excused! The problem is I'm very new at this office, and I don't want to seem like I'm not a team player (we're competing against other branches to see who can raise the most money), but I outgrew this sort of nonsense in high school and I'd much rather sit quietly in my office in my normal clothes and get my work done! How can I get out of this mess without making a bad impression?

I Don't Want to Dress Up

Dear I Don't Want to Dress Up,

Period Costume? You mean you're not JUMPING at the chance to wear a Wimple on the Commuter Train! Or wander around the office all day in a Hoop Skirt? What is WRONG with you, Dear Reader??

Hee, hee, the EGs are just Messing With You because we find this situation so Absurd. Your office sounds Completely Insane. Do you work at Loony Bin, Inc. or something? Definitely don't wear a costume to work. However, since, as you say, you are new, you probably need to make Some Sort of Effort to Play Along, unless you can think of a good, business-related excuse, like, "I'm sorry, here's my $5, but I have several off-site meetings with Our Most Important Client that day, so I'm not going to dress up this time." We'd recommend taking advantage of the Vagueness of "Period Costume." You don't have to wear some sort of Crazy Medieval Getup—how about a Vintage Dress from the 1940s? Or a sort of Mod Look? Neither of those will look out of place on the train, and you'll still be wearing something that qualifies.

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

First allow me to express my admiration of both the web page and the book. It's heartening that other college students who prefer cocktails to kegs have actually existed. Now onto my query. I have earned my college letter jacket but unfortunately I would have to pay for it. I am unsure about the etiquette surrounding letter jackets. Is it a faux pas to wear the jacket after one has graduated? Thank you.

Cheers,
Proud of my Future Alma Mater

Dear Proud,

Congratulations! It's Keen you've earned your Letter Jacket! (Hee, hee, the EGs wonder if anyone's said that particular phrase since the 50's!) Unfortunately, Dear Reader, yes, you really shouldn't wear your Letter Jacket after Graduation. We have, occasionally, seen people wandering around in Old Letter Jackets (like "Varsity Football '98") and that just looks a Bit Odd, like you Can't Accept the Fact that School Is Over. However, we think a College Letter Jacket (or, for that matter, a High School One) makes a Great Keepsake. It's the sort of thing you can show to Your Kids someday (and, if they're into Vintage Clothing, they'll probably want to Borrow It... THAT would be okay). If it's not too terribly expensive, Dear Reader (and we do hope it's not—Colleges should make Letter Jackets Affordable for Their Students, Dammit!), we'd recommend buying it, even if you can only wear it for a Short While.

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I was wondering if it’s all right for a man to comment on a woman’s appearance (lost weight, looks great in dress, looks younger, etc.) in front of his wife.

Curious Wife

Dear Curious Wife,

Normal, complimentary observations are fine. "Haven't seen Elizabeth in a while—she looks great with short hair!" shouldn't bother anybody. Complimentary observations intended to make his wife feel Bad About Herself in Comparison (e.g., "You know, Elizabeth always makes sure her hair looks nice. Isn't it about time you got a haircut, honey?") are Mean, and, therefore, Not Appropriate. Sleazy observations, like, "Wow, Elizabeth looks really HOT with short hair!" are not appropriate for Married Men to be making about anybody, to anybody. We also don't think he should be going around giving a Running Commentary on the appearance of Every Woman He Sees—if this is all he talks about, Dear Reader, then you need to have a chat with him. Surely he can find more appropriate topics of conversation. (And, just if anyone's wondering, all of this applies to Anyone in a Relationship—it's just as Impolite for a Girl to mention how attractive she finds Some Other Guy in front of Her Boyfriend.)

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

My cousin was recently married. She had been engaged to two other men before this wedding. The last engagement went as far as the wedding shower. I gave her a gift for the second engagement—which was returned to me two years later in un-returnable condition. It was a very nice, somewhat expensive toaster that was on her registry. It appeared to have been used. It now sits in my garage. Now that she has actually gotten married, what am I to give her as a gift? I felt bad for her when the last engagement didn't work out. She must have been mortified. That aside, she didn't return the gift within what I thought was an appropriate time period.

I am in my mid-twenties and struggling a bit financially. I can't afford to keep buying wedding gifts for the same person like this. I know that it would be unbelievably rude to not give her something at all—but with the way the last gift was handled and my financial situation, what do you recommend?

Thank you for your help!

Toaster 2.0?

Dear Toaster 2.0?,

It had been USED, and she sent it back to you? Well, we suppose she thought she was doing the Right Thing—one is, of course, obliged to return Engagement/Shower/Wedding Presents if One's Marriage is Called Off—but ugh! This is why it's best not to use Such Gifts until After the Wedding... but the EGs Digress.

Dear Reader, give your cousin a present According to Your Means. Do not feel you need to give her something along the lines of the Expensive Toaster—if the best you can do is a set of Vintage Cookbooks from the Local Used Bookshop, then that, Dear Reader, is Perfectly Fine. The EGs would say the same thing if this were her First Engagement... never, ever feel you need to Bankrupt Yourself in order to give someone a Wedding Present!

As ever,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dearest Grrls,

I have yet another wedding question for you, and it involves your favorite subject, the Thank You Note.

A friend of mine from high school got married this past June, and I attended. A couple of weeks before the wedding, I selected and had delivered a lovely gift from their registry. A week or so later (just before the actual wedding date), I got a call from the bride, sweetly thanking me for my gift, and expressing her and her fiancé's gratitude.

Here's what I'm wondering: Does this exempt her from writing me a thank-you note? How did she even know what I got her? (The package went to her mother-in-law's house, and I'm assuming that her mother-in-law wasn't opening gifts!) It was nice of her to call, but I'd like to know what she thought of my actual gift.

Oh well.

Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,

Of course this doesn't exempt her from Taking Pen to Paper! Arrrgh! The EGs have Had It Up to Here with Lazy Brides! Yes, we know that it can be a Daunting Project to write Prompt, Neat, Polite Thank-You Notes to every single person who sent you a gift, particularly if you had a Big Wedding, but that's just Part of the Deal. If you hate writing Thank-You Notes that much, you have No Business Expecting Gifts. As for how she knew what you got her if it was delivered to her Future Mother-in-Law's House, well, Dear Reader, these days a lot of Wedding Registries are online, and we've heard of Brides Checking Them Obsessively... we assume she was able to pull up her account and see what you bought her. (A word of warning: While we can imagine some Enterprising Brides making use of this online functionality as a way to Get a Head Start on the Thank-You Notes, we think you should wait until you Actually Open the Gifts before you write the Notes. What if someone took the trouble to put together a basket of several presents for you, only one of which is something from Your Registry? You wouldn't want to send Aunt Thelma a Thank-You Note for the Placesetting of China she bought for you when she spent a lot of time selecting a Linen Tablecloth and Napkins, too, that Weren't on Your Registry! She'd wonder what had happened to the rest of Her Gift!)

If anyone is in the New York City area and would like to hear some advice from the EGs on how NOT to be an Rude Bride, you can catch us on Saturday, September 19 at the Etiquette Panel of the Wedding March on Madison.

Sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dearest Grrls,

I live alone in a small one bedroom apartment. I don't have a normal dining room set-up, and I'm not a very good cook. I can make simple plain vegetarian food for myself, but I'm not really set up for an elaborate dinner party. The problem is that more and more (I'm 30) of my good friends are getting married and hosting nice evenings at their large and well-appointed homes they've bought with their spouses and furnished with lovely wedding gifts. I adore my friends, and am completely OK with my current arrangement, since I know that I too will eventually find someone terrific with whom to tie the knot!

But I feel guilty and awkward, going to these nice dinners but not hosting them myself. Should I make an attempt to reciprocate, even if in a small and mismatched-dinnerware sort of way, or host smaller cocktail or dessert events?

I really love my friends and don't want to be the one who never hosts; it's just hard because of my small place, etc. I do always show up with nice wine, treats, and offer to bring whatever I can (dessert or salad or some such).

Any advice?

Thanks!
Tiny Kitchen in Seattle

Dear Tiny Kitchen,
Don't worry about your Small Apartment and Mismatched Dinnerware! What matters most is Making an Effort to reciprocate your friends' hospitality. And don't worry, either, about not being an Experienced Chef—you can have a Wonderful Party without knowing how to cook anything Terribly Adventurous. What matters most: Which Guests you invite (Good Conversation is a must), and the fact that you present the best food and beverages you can. (Note: "Best" does not mean "Elaborate" or "Expensive"!) For starters, try the EGs' Artichoke Dip, if you want to go the Cocktail Party Route—it's super-easy to make! Put that out with some Good Bread, a selection of different cheeses and crackers, and a crudité platter, and you've got plenty of hors d'oeuvres for a Small Cocktail Get-Together. Or, Dear Reader, you could always make a Very Simple, But Yummy dinner of fresh bread, a big salad, and pasta with fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and garlic, and serve some Good Ice Cream with Fresh Strawberries for dessert, and your friends will love it! Plus, the more you have Guests Over, the more confident you'll become as a Hostess, and the easier every party will seem.

All best,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

A group of eight women meet weekly for tennis doubles. We play competitively, and have fun, too, but we have a slight problem. One of the women is late without fail, every week. We all laugh it off, but deep down, we are all bothered by her tardiness, and our warm-up is uneven, and one court definitely suffers. Even if it is her turn to bring the balls, she cannot show up on time. She appears, usually 15-20 minutes into the two-hour court time, giggles her "sorry," and we get started. Several people have mentioned it to her individually, but she has not changed. We would all love any advice you can provide!

Sincerely,
Beth

Dear Beth,

Isn't that inconsiderate of her! The EGs cannot stand Tardiness, ever, but it's particularly egregious when it's Chronic and Other People are Habitually Inconvenienced by it! We think you need to nominate someone as a Spokesperson and have that person speak with Miss Lateness after your court time. "Hortense, I need to talk with you about something. You were 20 minutes late today; we all see that there's a Pattern Here. It's truly an inconvenience to everyone, and this morning, before you arrived, we all agreed that we'd ask you to make a Real Effort to do something about it. We don't want to have to ask you to find new Tennis Buddies, but Hortense, it's just Not Fair for everyone when you're late every single week. We want to keep playing with you, but we also want everyone to have a Fair Warm-Up. I hope you understand." We hope this will work, but then again, nothing you can say can MAKE her Be on Time. Give her a chance to Shape Up... then, Dear Reader, you should be prepared to Find a Replacement Player if she can't show you she's Changed Her Ways.

Cheers,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I am a high school student and am currently in the midst of the College Application Process. My question refers to Thank-You Notes. Are there special guidelines for sending Thank-You Notes to one's teachers to thank them for writing Teacher Recommendations? Can one send them after one has decided which college to matriculate? This would be, unfortunately, Months after one has asked for teacher recommendations.) Sending such notes a week after asking one's teachers seems a bit strange as said teachers would have probably not written the letters yet. What time line would you suggest?

Thanks,
Confused

Dear Confused,

First, thank you for realizing that you do need to Write Them! So many students don't, which is a shame. It takes a considerable amount of Time and Effort to put together a Thoughtful Recommendation!

Well, when you ask a Teacher to Write a Letter for you, you need to Give Him or Her the Proper Forms, right? We'd attach a very, very brief note to the packet of information you're giving the teacher. "Dear Mr. Collingsworth, Thank you very much for writing Recommendations for me to Princeton, Brown, and Dartmouth. I truly appreciate your taking the time to do this. I've enclosed all the necessary forms, a copy of my transcript, a list of my extra-curricular activities, and stamped envelopes. If you have any questions for me, or need any further information, please let me know. Sincerely yours, Elizabeth Darcy." Then, if a Teacher tells you he or she has Mailed Off Your Letter, you should send a Thank-You Note right away. If you do not hear from teachers as they send their letters in, how about sending the notes about a week before Your Teachers' Recommendations are Due at the schools you're applying to? Then it's not only a Proper Thank-You, it's also a Good Reminder in case you've got a Slightly Absent-Minded Teacher who may have forgotten the deadline. (Don't, of course, mention this IN the note; just write it as if they'd already sent it.)

We wish you the best of luck with your College Applications!

Yours truly,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I stumbled upon your site and I love it! There is so much great advice to be had, I have bookmarked it and ordered both of your books for good measure and reading pleasure. I am also tres impressed by the usage of French and English as I am a French teacher, but now on to my question.

My boyfriend and I attended the wedding of a friend in May of this year. It's now Labor Day, and we still have not received a thank you card from said friend. To say the least, I am un peu put out by the fact that we have not yet received a thank you for our attendance or the gift. In her defense, I went to her bridal shower and she sent a thank you right away, but is it normal to wait four months before sending a thank you? I know that it would be tres rude to call her on the phone and say, "Where is my thank you?" but I am now left wondering how to go about finding out if she even received the gift. I contacted the company who delivered it, and they said it was delivered, so what do I do now? Quelle impasse!

Merci beaucoup,
Unimpressed by Her Lack of Etiquette

Dear Unimpressed,

We're so glad you like our site, and we hope you enjoy Our Books! We're especially pleased to hear that a French Teacher approves of our Occasional Usage of French. Merci beaucoup! Nous aimons le français!

Here's what you do: send a Wee Note to Your Friend inquiring if she ever received the Gift You Sent:

Dear Nathalie,

I hope you and Frederick had a wonderful honeymoon and are all settled into your New Home! I'm just writing to ask a Favor of You: could you let me know if you received the vase I sent you as a Wedding Present? I'm concerned that it might have Gone Missing... I've been hearing the most terrible stories lately of how [insert name of shipping carrier] has misplaced several of my friends' packages, and I'm worried that you might not have received the gift I sent back in May. Please do let me know—I've been worried sick lately that perhaps you didn't receive it and am thinking I'm following that silly fake rule about having one year to send a Wedding Gift! Hope to see you soon.

Best wishes,
Lily

No, it's not normal to wait four months before sending a Thank-You Note. Once you get back from Your Honeymoon, Brides, you'd better Get Cracking on those Thank-You Notes! Your Guests don't get a Year to Send You a Gift (that notion, Dear Readers, is just Something That Some Lazy Person Made Up, and the EGs Aren't Going to Stand For It), and YOU do not get a Year to Send Thank-You Notes. Promptness is an Essential Part of Politeness.

Most sincerely yours,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

My husband and I recently hosted his brother, sister-in-law and their three children over to our house for a little "picnic" of sorts and an afternoon of swimming in our pool.

I told them that we would be making plenty of food for lunch, but since we don't eat meat, would they mind bringing their own fried chicken or some sort of meat dish they prefer. They agreed and we planned on a fun day together. However, when they arrived, instead of just bringing the meat portion of the meal as agreed, they brought drive thru Chick-Fil-a for the whole family, including sandwiches, fries, dessert and drinks.

I had spent the whole morning making yummy, fun traditional picnic garb, including baked beans, potato salad, marinated cucumber salad, sliced watermelon, corn on the cob and dessert. I understand that kids can be picky, but this seemed excessive. Their kids ended up wanting the food that we had made over the greasy fast food anyway.
They (the brother and sister-in-law) ate their fast food and then made a pathetic attempt to be polite and eat a little bit of our food. They even stated (unconvincingly) that they didn't know we were going to do all that, even though we had discussed it! I felt as though I had wasted a bunch of food... and time!

I have started to notice a trend that when we do things together involving food, they almost always bring their own drive thru fast food. Is it just me, or is this rude? Any advice on future events?

Sincerely,
Dumb-founded

Dear Dumb-founded,

Ugh! Why would anyone want Fast Food instead of Yummy, Homemade Picnic Food? Honestly, Dear Reader, we don't think you should ask them to bring anything in the future. There is absolutely No Reason why people who Eat Meat can't enjoy a Veggie Meal every once an a while, especially when they're at the home of Someone Who Is Vegetarian! You're the Hostess, and you should serve What You Want. Next time you have them over, tell them that there is No Need to Bring Any Food—you'll be Cooking for Everyone.

All best,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I need some advice on how to address the issue of chewing food with one's mouth open. Unlike some other open-mouth chewing situations which I have read about in your archive, this one is particularly delicate: the offender is my wife. I would like to know how I can tactfully bring this issue to her attention. She is not overly sensitive, but at the same time I do not want to hurt her feelings. She is a beautiful, loving woman who is graceful in every way except for eating, and it pains me to see her chew her food with her mouth open. She is evidently unaware of this behavior.

Please help me with this touchy situation. I sincerely appreciate any assistance you can offer.

Concerned (Yet Desperate) Husband

Dear Concerned (Yet Desperate) Husband,

Our Best Advice, Dear Reader, is to treat this like Spinach in Someone's Teeth—they'd want you to tell them if you noticed and they didn't. And we think the same thing is true with Unconsciously Impolite Behavior—oftentimes, the Perpetrators are just Completely Ignorant that they've slipped into a pattern of Rudeness. As long as you're gentle about it, and not Hyper-Critical, Dear Reader, we think you can tell her, and we think she'll probably be grateful to you for it. "Dear, there's something I just wanted to mention. It's kind of tough to say this, for I don't want you to be Offended or think I'm being Terribly Picky, but I've noticed a Wee Habit that you have that I'm sure you're not aware of, and I know you'd want me to tell you about it. If it were me, I'd want you to tell me. Occasionally, you chew with your mouth open... again, I'm sure you aren't even aware of it, but I thought I should tell you that I noticed. I mean, I'd REALLY want you to tell me if I slurped my soup or something!" She'll probably be embarrassed, but really, we think if you say this in a Kind Tone (and, of course, In Private), she'll probably be Grateful that you Said Something.

Yours sincerely,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

Is it proper etiquette to send out a two-year-old's birthday party invitation with a gift registry insert in it?

Thanks,
Myra

Dear Myra,

No. It's improper to send out ANY invitation with Gift Registry Information in it, and, more importantly, a TWO-YEAR-OLD CHILD has No Business Being Registered Anywhere, for Anything, for Any Reason. The EGs understand Retail Stores want to Make a Buck, but is there no one with the Slightest Bit of Sense on their Management Teams? Somebody needs to stand up and say, "I'm sorry, but we are Way Off Track Here with our campaigns to Encourage Everyone to Register for Everything. It just makes us look like we're Aiding and Abetting Greediness (which, I guess, we ARE), and the damage to Our Image in the long run is going to be a Hell of a Lot Worse than whatever money we're making now off Birthday Registries for Two-Year-Olds."

As ever,
The Etiquette Grrls

Cheers!

Dear Etiquette Grrls,

I was reminiscing with a Dear Old Friend of mine recently and the subject of our High School Prom came up. She and her date had been invited for dinner that evening at a mutual friend's house for a Pre-Prom Dinner and "Cocktails" (as they were all 17-18 at the time, this consisted of one small glass of champagne). The guests at this Dinner Party consisted of My Dear Old Friend and Her Date, the Two Daughters from the family hosting and their dates, and one other Couple.

Now, I'm not One To Gossip, but the dinner they were served had become quite legendary over the years as one of The Worst In History. No one could eat any of it and it was all they could do to move their food around enough to make it appear to have been eaten, so as not to insult their Mother who had taken the time to prepare it all.

During our reminiscing, my Dear Old Friend told me that many years later she had run into her Prom Date. While they were catching up, he laughed and told her, "Did you know that Bitsy and LaLa's [not their real names] Parents had sent me a bill for the dinner on Prom Night?" They both had a good laugh over it, but deep down my Dear Old Friend was horrified! Her Date didn't even know the Hosts and really had only known my Dear Friend somewhat casually at the time.

So my question, Dear Etiquette Grrls, is this a common or accepted practice, to send a bill to dates after a dinner party? My Friend and I felt this was totally out of line, but deep down we wondered if maybe this was some kind of Old Tradition that we had overlooked. There had been no arrangements made prior to share the cost of the dinner, nor had the Dinner Party itself been something my Friend or Her Date desired to attend but rather had done so out of kindness to her friends.

All of my logic and etiquette knowledge tells me that this was completely out of the ordinary, but before my Dear Old Friend and I laugh any more over this memory, I would like to know if we are the ones missing something instead.

Best,
Billed and Befuddled

Dear Billed,

Holy Mary, Mother of God! Someone's Parents hosted a Pre-Prom Dinner at their home and then SENT A BILL to the Young Men in Attendence? Can anyone say "Cheap"? That is Completely Insane, Dear Reader! Even if the dinner had been Edible, it would've been Nuts! First of all, you NEVER charge anyone for a Meal in Your Home. Ever. Second, the whole point of hosting a Pre-Prom (or After-Prom) Festivity is to Do Something Nice for Your Kids and Their Friends (with the slight Ulterior Motive of Being Able to Supervise Them). Charging the Poor Children flies in the face of this! There is no Old Tradition that permits this—it's just Completely Bizarre Rudeness. All we have to say is, what a Polite Young Man to have kept the secret that long!

Congratulations, Dear Reader—you currently are the holder of the "Wackiest Prom Story the EGs Have Ever Heard" Title.

Best wishes,
The Etiquette Grrls

 

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